Susan and I had a right delightful time when the first warm days of spring came, for then it was the season in which to make sugar. I do not mean to say that we girls took any part in the sweet work; but on a certain day, very early in the morning, we were allowed to go out to Master Winthrop's plantation in New Town, there to see his people at the task, and, what was far better, we remained until late at night.
It was the first time I had been away from home, save to go over to Charlestown for a few hours, since we came from England, and I enjoyed it all the more because of its being something strange.
The snow was deep on the low-lying lands, therefore we wore snow-shoes, and you must know that we girls can use those odd footings almost as well as do the Indian children. It was a long walk to New Town; but father went with us, his gun loaded heavily in case we came across a hungry wolf, and so great was the excitement of going abroad after having been kept in the house, except on those days when we went to meeting or lecture, ever since the winter began, that we gave no heed to fatigue.
It seems queer that one can get sugar from trees, and yet so we do in this new country, otherwise there would be many times when we would not have sweet cake, for vessels seldom arrive from England with stores at the very moment when one is in need of this thing or that.
After we had arrived at Master Winthrop's plantation, good Mistress Winthrop went with us girls to see the sap drawn from the maples, and the three of us rode on a sled hauled by one of the serving men, of whom Master Winthrop has many.
Do you know how the sap is taken? Well, first a hole is bored in the trunk of a tree, about as high from the surface as will admit of placing a bucket beneath it, and into this a small wooden spout, or spigot, is driven. Beneath the spout is placed a bucket or tub, and into this the sap, coaxed up from the roots by the warmth of the sun, drops, or runs, very slowly.
Master Winthrop's serving men made holes in many trees, and then, when the work had been done, went about gathering the sap out of the buckets or tubs, into casks, which were hauled from place to place on a sled, exactly as Mistress Winthrop, Susan and I had ridden.
As soon as a cask has been filled, a huge fire is built near at hand, and over it is hung a large kettle, much as if one were counting on making soap. In this the sap is boiled until it is thick, like molasses, in case one wishes to make syrup, or yet longer if sugar is wanted.
Of course it is necessary to taste of the syrup very often to learn if it has been cooked enough, and this portion of the work Susan and I did until we felt much as flies look after they have been feasting on molasses, and have their wings and legs clogged with sweetness.
I do not mean to say that we besmeared ourselves with it; but we ate so much while tasting to learn if the cooking was going on properly, that I felt as if I had been turned into a big cake of sugar.
When the sap is thick enough to "sugar," as it is called, it is poured into pans of birch-bark, where it cools in cakes, each weighing two or three pounds.